Thursday, December 24, 2009

No country

Once I got onto a dirt road in some random state park that I’ve never heard of, I knew I was nowhere near Jiminy Peak in Hancock, Massachusetts. All I wanted to do was ski, but that was going to be delayed for about an hour as I explored a place so untamed that not even Google knew what was going on. Somewhere from Albany, I had taken a wrong turn.

I had an inkling of how lost I was when I didn’t see the name of the road I was on for half an hour. I called Katie, a wonderful friend and navigator, to look up where I was online. The problem was that most of the side streets weren't listed on Google Maps. Then, I lost my cell phone reception.

Driving through Cherry Plain State Park was scenic, but the unplowed roads and steep cliffs with no guardrails was a bit of a turnoff. I ended up going in circles, so I saw a lot of the area even though there wasn’t much to see. The place was so barren that seeing a home was a highlight. Seeing a business, like a restaurant, was like spotting a unicorn: elusive, mystical and hard to fathom.

View Larger Map

The most important that came out of this was not that I was so late to the mountain that I was able to get the discounted evening rate, which was delightful to someone eking out a meager living as a reporter. Rather, I realized that my fantasy of living out in the quiet countryside is something I don’t want to pursue anymore.

In a city like Bridgeport, where I live, I think a lot of people would want to get away from the crime, the abandoned buildings, the traffic that’s common in the area. None of this really exists in the country, aside from the occasional dilapidated barn or outdoorsmen hunting without a license. With all the problems in Bridgeport, I yearned for the quiet countryside, where I could spend my time hunting rather than cursing at the awful drivers.

I think I still want something like this, but not to the extent I saw it as I roamed these roads I've never been on before. These weren’t even villages I was passing through. It was just the occasional trailer. The outdoors are great and all, but I need places to shop, movie theaters to go to and bars to hang out in. None of that existed in this part of upstate New York.

So I guess I can cross out totally rural areas from the places I want to live in. That still leaves Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix and anywhere outside of the United States as possible future homes. Maybe a summer place outside Cherry Plain State Park would suffice for a couple months a year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dutifully done deception

My favorite television characters include a time-travelling Japanese nerd, a crooked cop who murdered an innocent detective in the pilot episode and a charismatic gay thug who robs drug dealers for their money and drugs. A charming bunch of guys for sure, but the character I relate to most is different.

He’s a dedicated husband, a loving father and a likeable goofball. He’s also a serial killer who feigns nearly all emotions just so he seems normal.

Yup, that’s me. Let me explain.

Dexter Morgan (played by Michael Hall) is a serial killer with a heart of gold. He only kills murderers and has a special hatred of those who harm children. He juggles his dark urges with his family and job. Through his voice-over narration, we see that the only time Dexter is really alive is when he’s killing. All other times, he’s trying as hard as he can to act normal. His stepdad taught him a lot about human behavior. The rest he learns as he goes.

Obviously, none of the serial-killer double life applies to me me. I have no sinister urges or sadistic hobbies (honestly). I relate to Dexter and how he has to pretend. I’m not the only one who feigns interest, laughs or empathy at times. Everyone does it, and I think that’s why a show about a serial killer can be Showtime’s highest rated program. We, as in normal people, don’t build our live around pretending like Dexter does. We just sprinkle it around as we see fit.

Just think how often we pretend things. It’s usually nothing serious that we’re hiding. It can be a forced chuckle after an unfunny story. A smile for no real reason. It can even be anger when all you want to do is hug the person. As a reporter, I see the fakeness regularly. Public relations people laugh at my bad jokes. Politicians express sympathy and grave concern over things when it makes them look good.

Now imagine if we all stopped pretending. I tried, but I can’t.

Framing my life with the tale of a serial killer is admittedly a stretch. Maybe it’s because I see my man Dexter as a tragic figure, which is especially true after Sunday’s season finale. No spoilers here. Just check the show out.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

So I’ve kicked my anime habit for the most part, but I’ve still been watching them sporadically. Here are the last three I saw.

Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind
The nerdy side of me quickly realized that the giant insects from the underrated Xbox 360 game Lost Planet were obviously inspired by this film. With all the Hayao Miyazaki films I’ve seen lately, this one might be my favorite. It was his first huge hit and even though it was made in the mid 80s, the only outdated thing in this movie is the awful soundtrack. Everything else, from the animation to the storyline, makes this one a classic.

Incoherent, unexplainable perfection. I don’t really know what to say about this thriller film that looks at the nature of dreams. The video clip below makes little sense, but it provides a glimpse of this excellent, bizarre movie. By the way, it’s the only non-Miyazaki film I’ve seen since I started my binge.

Porco Rosso
Brave heroine? Check. Beautiful animation? Check. Distinct lack of villains? Check.
After watching all these Miyazaki films, I’ve realized the common threads between all his films. While they work in the other films, I felt Porco Rosso was lacking compared to the other films.

The main problem is the lack of real villains. His other films, like this one, had gray areas that made them interesting, but in this movie it just creates a lack of tension. The titular character is an ace pilot that was inexplicably turned into a pig during World War I. He’s shunned society and only resurfaces to go to his favorite restaurant and rescue ships that pirates have ransacked. The pirates are all buffoons, and so is the rival pilot they hire to kill Porco Rosso. At the end of the movie, everyone is the best of friends.

One thing I liked is that while the storyline is pure fantasy, it’s set in the real world. Italy has turned to facism, and World War II is on the horizon. That real element adds some depth that Miyazaki’s purely fictional films lack. Despite how chummy all the characters in this movie are, it’s still entertaining and better than most movies. It just comes across as Miyazaki-light.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Perhaps some animes are in order: Volume 1

When I was a kid, I used to really like boobs and gore. I still enjoy such things now and then, but my parents didn’t let me watch R-rated films. To get around this, I would rent graphic unrated anime films. Since they’re animated, I don’t think my parents caught on to my scheme.

The problem with this is that I saw a lot of awful movies. I find 98 percent of the genre to be almost unbearable. All the high-pitched voices, incomprehensible action and general weirdness turned me off, but recently I’ve found myself somewhat obsessed. Five of the last six movies I've seen have all been anime (the only one what wasn’t was Basic Instinct, and that was still awesome).

Plus, almost all of them lacked nudity or violence, but I still loved them. Here’s my first volume of thoughts on the films I’ve been binging on.

Howl’s Moving Castle: Wow. When I saw Coraline in 3D a number of months ago, I left the theater overwhelmed that artists could be so creative. The plot was OK, but it was the world that stole the show in that film. That same can be said about Hayao Miyazaki’s film. Three of the four films have been by this director, and his reputation as a genius is well warranted.

Like Coraline, the storyline here is decent enough, but it’s the world and special effects that make the movie so good. Like some of Miyazaki’s other films, there are some heavy-handed messages about war, although it's not too obnoxious when there's a beautifully drawn moving castle that sort of resembles a chicken walking around the countryside.

Princess Mononoke: I actually saw this Miyazaki film when it came out more than 10 years ago, and while I recall liking the animation, I remember losing interest in the story as the film went on. The same thing happened here.

While things become less exciting as events lead up to the environmentally-friendly ending, the characters stand out. Considering the awesome animation that shows samurai battles and massive boars possessed by demons, this is no small feat. One interesting thing about Miyazaki’s films is that the enemies are almost always portrayed sympathetically.

In this film Lady Eboshi is the pseudo-villian. She clear cuts the forest and kills animal gods just to make her town’s iron business more profitable. At the same time, she’s taken in prostitutes to work in the town. They’re considered more essential to the town’s survival than the weak men. Also, she’s taken in lepers when nobody else would. Of course, it’s for selfish reasons that she bandaged them and had their wounds tended to, but it makes her a compassionate, yet occasionally cruel, mistress.

Eventually, the film devolves into babble about the Forest Gods, but this film is still worth watching. After all, it was Japan’s highest grossing film into Titanic came along.

My Neighbor Totoro: I saw this when I was about ten years old, and while I didn’t remember what happened in the movie, some of the images have remained memorable in my mind. The cat bus. The creature Totoro waiting at the bus station with a umbrella on his head. The stunning vistas of post-WWII countryside.

This is probably the first anime I’ve ever seen, and I think its one most kids should see. As the past two films, it’s also directed by Miyazaki. I watched an old DVD version put out by Fox, so the full-screen format disappointed me. Also, some of the voice acting was a bit grating. Still, the quality of the film made it easy to overlook some technical problems.

That's all for now. Soon I'll post my thoughts on yet another Miyazaki film, in addition to an anime that wasn't even directed by him.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My Life, Your Entertainment

I think there might be something wrong with me.

I went home from work to pick up a couple things before an offensively long meeting and my street was blocked off by the police. A couple people got shot, which isn’t a terribly rare occurrence in my new neighborhood. This excited me.

My first instinct was to talk to people and report on it. This is the kind of hard stuff that’s missing at the newspaper I work at now. Sure, shootings happen fairly often in cities like Bridgeport, but each one is something that most people affected by it will never forget. There’s a story here aside from the obvious who what where when why and how.

The Connecticut Post described my neighborhood as “notorious for crime and violence” but I feel like the real story hasn’t been written yet. What about the families that live on Coleman Street? How do they feel living in a place like this? Did the absurdly high living costs of the county force them to live here(which is my situation)? What can the police do to fix the problem since the station is only a few blocks away

Maybe I’m just burnt out on long meetings about money. Maybe I’m just excited to have been affected by a violent crime, which really hasn’t happened to me before. All I know is that, right now, I’d love to pound the pavement and report on the streets.

Here are a couple articles on the incident.

No arrests in Bridgeport shooting

Cops probe Bridgeport shooting

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bright Lights

I unintentionally lived through a scene of one of my favorite books this weekend. Once I realized what was happening I geeked out over having such a literary experience. I also realized I miss putting my English major to use.

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney, is a second-person novel that serves as a harsh indictment of 80s yuppie culture told through the eyes of a coke-addicted wannabe writer that just can’t let go of his wife that abandoned him. He’s having a quarter-life crisis and his job as a fact checker at a New Yorker-type of magazine, along with the late-night coke excursions, has taken a toll on his mind and body.

The whole coke and yuppie thing isn’t me, although there are some similarities - particularly the quarter-life crisis bit. It’s one of the few novels that I’ve read multiple times. One of the first scenes of the book has the unnamed protagonist stumbling out onto the streets of New York after an all-night bender with Bolivian Marching Powder (his words, not mine) and some unsavory women in a seedy club. He shamefully realizes, it’s Sunday morning and people are walking the streets in their best clothing while he looks like something from the gutter.
"You know for a fact that if you go out into the morning alone, without even your sunglasses--which you have neglected to bring, because who, after all, plans on these travesties?--the harsh, angling light will turn you to flesh and bone. Mortality will pierce you through the retina."
My circumstance was a bit different. All I had that night were some criminally overpriced drinks, but I was still up way too early – or too late - considering it was dawn. My eyes were bloodshot. My hair was a mess and the lack of sleep had me a little out of my mind. The bakeries were open and that’s when I realized I was living a watered down version of the scene from Bright Lights, Big City. The book begins and ends with the bread from a bakery. At first, it’s the indignity of being up the same time as the bakers and not doing anything productive like they’re doing. At the end, it symbolizes redemption. Deep stuff.

At least it was so early that the other people on the streets had no legitimate reason to be there either, except for this one girl at Grand Central. She was playing a ukulele rather well in the nearly empty station. Everyone else I saw that morning looked like they were up to no good. I think I was somewhere in the middle of the two groups.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Power and Responsibility

I’m a bit of a comic book snob, so I don’t typically read the super hero stuff. I go for more of the high brow or independent stuff, but there’s one superhero comic that has made me cry (at least twice): Ultimate Spider-Man.

There are a bunch of different versions of Spider-Man, and that’s not even counting the ones from movie and TV. Each one seems to retain the basic elements: a young man learns to become a hero after his uncle is murdered. Ultimate Spider-Man sort of reboots and re-imagines the comics for people who haven’t been able to keep up with the hundreds of issues (thousands maybe?) from the past few decades. I'm definitely part of this intended audience.

What I love about the series is that, like the other versions of Spidey, Peter Parker is in high school when it happens. The difference is that, even after 133 issues, he’s still in high school. They haven’t made him a grown up, and the series is for the better because of it.

I really enjoyed the first two movies even though Peter is an adult by the end of the first movie. Like in the movies, the Ultimate version of Peter as an decent person that has to deal with tragic situations. No matter how much good he does, he still suffers. The comics really crank this up a notch, and although it was designed with a younger audience in mind, some of the stuff is absolutely heartbreaking.

His parents were killed.

His uncle was killed.

His best friend was killed.

His non-romantic kinda-girlfriend was killed. So was her dad.

This tortured 16 year old has to deal with all this stuff, in addition to school, his girlfriend(s), sketchy government agencies and mass-murderers that want him dead. Sometimes things get pretty dark for a mainstream comic, but there’s always hope. His dedication to doing the right thing almost never wavers no matter how hard things get. And trust me, they get difficult.

Even though this is a series about a teen kid with superhuman strength that shoots webs from his wrists and goes against villains like “Dr. Octopus” and “Venom”, I find it inspiring. Maybe that’s one of the nerdiest things I’ve ever said, but it’s true. Ultimate Spider-Man is heartbreaking, hopeful and inspiring.

Plus, he works for a newspaper. I can relate.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Blogger is awful

I always type up my posts in Word, like any reasonable person would do, but for some reason Blogspot/Blogger/whatever it's called seems to rebel against this. Each time, no matter what I set the font to, it changes it as it sees fit. Really, really annoying.

On a more positive note, I downloaded the NY Times logo font specifically to create the header of this blog. As a newspaper man, there's something amazing about that font and I can't quite put my finger on it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Moving on up

One of my many dreams has come true. On May 1, I will have my own apartment. I’ve had some bad experiences with roommates in the past, so I’ve had this dream for a while now. The studio has a separate kitchen and is fairly spacious, quite beautiful, and best of all, entirely affordable. There are hardwood floors and a poor man’s balcony in the form of a fire escape.

The thing is that’s in a rough part of Bridgeport. According to some, it’s an extremely bad part of Bridgeport and I’m going to die. For some reason I’m not concerned.

Some residents of the city I work with said I’m immediately going to be a target since I’m white. They say I’ll get jumped going from my car to the apartment (a 20 foot walk). Many people said they will never visit me because of the location. Sure, some of these people might know more than me, but it all sounds over the top. It’s not like I’ll be strolling the streets in my tailored suit with a wad of cash.

Some of the reactions I get really bother me, as if the area is some sort of war zone. Cops are there all the time, and the realtor told me there are dealers around. That doesn’t mean I’m going to die. It just means I’ll actually be living. I’d report in Iraq without hesitation if I had the chance. Same with war zones in Afghanistan, Africa and anywhere else in the world. My street and those places can’t even be compared.

I also want to report in a city with lots of problems. Where people have a right to be mad as hell, and corruption and dysfunction are prevalent. That’s Bridgeport. Working in Westport makes for some great experience, but living in the type of city I want to one day report in is invaluable.

I have no illusions about the neighborhood. It isn’t paradise. The streets are filthy and I see police there often. I might be one of the few white guys there, but what does it matter? I’ve got an awesome apartment and I’m becoming a better reporter just by living there. I can’t do that anywhere else. Then again, I can’t even afford an apartment anywhere else.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


So I'm sitting here and watching a town meeting online for a story I'll be working on tomorrow. Normally I attend these in person, but I felt like lounging around in pajamas in the comfort of my room.

I've been an extremely lazy creative writer, and I've been using this word a lot lately, but it's been shameful. I started doing random exercises, much like when I was a naive freshmen, in order to get back into the groove. I'm going to try to write scenes (with very little dialogue) of memorable places I've been to. They're not all going to be interesting, but it will at least be fun for me since I'm selfish.

Los Angeles, California

The line for the guys’ bathroom stretched out of the makeshift trailer to the edge of the shrubbery. For once, girls had it easy, provided there were any in attendance. Their line was non-existent.

The men were made of patchy beards, pale skin and tight t-shirts with quirky references. I had shaved my patchy beard before I left for L.A in attempt at respectability. My sandals and cargo shorts didn’t help the cause. At least I was wearing a Lacoste polo. A knock-off Lacotse polo, although nobody could tell.

All of us had just sat through an insufferable press conference on the latest video games from a major publisher. The games themselves looked decent enough, but the presentation was insulting. So much effort was put into making the presenters look cool, hip and irreverent. Most shameful of all was when the president of the company pronounced the name of a classic game wrong.

Video game journalists are picky about that type of thing.

I finally got inside the bathroom and relieved myself from the numerous beers I took advantage of at the open bar. This was my first real “party” at E3 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo to the square people) and I needed the drinks. My brain was fried from one video game demonstration after the other. I don’t even like games too much. Occasionally one blows me away, but most are absolute drivel. I just know so much about them from my younger years that I find writing about them to be comforting.

Outside of the bathroom, the party was getting started. An all male party, aside from the sexy servers, but a party nonetheless. Fancy purple lights flew around the posh garden outside the club. Nobody was talking about video games. It was the second day of the conference, and most people would be leaving since all the big events were over. The third and final day is often subdued and pleasantly empty.

The weather was perfect and so was the mashed potato bar. It’s essentially a salad bar, only with delicious, steaming mashed potatoes and fixin’s aplenty. Bacon. Chili. Cheese. Onions. Bacon. There were others, but I focused on those select few.

One of the sexy servers approached Wadleigh, my best friend and colleague, and I, with a plate of mini-burgers. This was before the mini-burger trend swept the nation like Pokemon did many years ago. Because of this, we treated these as exotic delicacies. We contemplated how to eat our burgers. Two bites were two much, but one bite seemed like it might be too little.

We finished them in one, like true manly game journalists would.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Upstate of Mind

I consider Podkowa Lesna, Poland home. I consider South Glens Falls, NY home. I even consider Bangkok, Thailand home. Even after six months, Connecticut isn’t home to me. I realized this after I went back to upstate NY this weekend.

I think some people around New York City think of Upstate NY as some unknown, savage land, similar to the way Africa was portrayed in The Heart of Darkness. Sure, compared to the greater NY area, Upstate isn’t particularly exciting. The horror! The horror!

There are fair share of rednecks and townies (god bless ‘em anyways). My idols at the NY Times even made my town look like a bunch of gun-toting gay-bashing rednecks in a recent article. There are ignorant people everywhere, but there’s just something inviting about the quiet area where I grew up.

I was out at a bar at home and was trying to bum drinks off of my friends. Some random person overheard and bought me one. He didn’t know me and didn’t have any weird ulterior motives. He was just cool.

Granted, it was 2 dollar drink night, but I doubt I’d ever see someone do that here in CT. My most memorable bar experience was being charged $4.50 for a Bud Light, and then the bar tender THREW BACK the change I left as a tip. I’d say more than 10 percent is a decent tip for handing someone a bottle, but some people around here tend to be snooty about money.

Another thing I loved about being home, not including friends and family, were the drivers. I trusted them. I didn’t flip any of them off since I had no reason to do so. The drivers in this area of CT are notoriously awful. So awful, in fact, that I’ve developed road rage. Some people drive with a certain sense of entitlement, as if they’re above signaling because they’re in a large SUV. I’ve even seen some people in Prius’ that shouldn’t be allowed to drive. Ever.

I also liked that I didn’t see any “Be Green” stickers on gas guzzlers when I was back home. I’ve decided to start a tally of how many of these amusing hypocrites I see while driving around here. In just a few miles today, I’ve spotted. The results are somewhat skewed since maybe I just never noticed them Upstate. After all, pick-up trucks are probably more popular common than SUVs when heading to the unexplored depths of that strange land.

Maybe I’m being a bit too harsh about CT since I’m just a little above the poverty line, and if I was back home I’d be living comfortably. Perhaps I just really love seeing my family, friends and cat (her name is Mronia, pronounced Mroon-ya. It’s sort-of Polish.) There are plenty of good things about getting by around here. The number one reason is that I’m living my dream of being a reporter. Everything else will come with time.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

My Way or the Thai Way

So I decided to put my creative writing degree to use and actually write something that doesn’t involve news. It’s a book review of sorts for Do Travel Writers Go To Hell? by Thomas Kohnstamm. The point of the blog that published it, which is run by the awesome professor Ira Sukrunguang, is to combine life and books to create unconventional reviews. I find them to be more interesting than the Times’ book supplement.

I drew upon my Thailand experience for the book review. . Writing about the semester I spent there has been difficult because I never knew how to approach. I wasn’t exactly a backpacker visting for a couple weeks, but I wasn’t Thai either. Either way, I get nostalgic for all my misadventures there.

Trying to strike a balance between my foreignness and my attempts at assimilation (despite looking like a freak) is something I worked on in other failed attempts at writing about the country. I think I did it fairly well in my review. I just had to remind myself that, despite my best intentions, I was often an idiot when I was there - like most other people are.

Speaking of Thailand, I often daydream about going over there and doing some freelance reporting. One of the things I’d want to do is write features about the poor manual laborers that I’d often see in makeshift shanty towns around the train tracks. The thing is that I don’t want to make it a pity piece like most writers seem to do. I don’t want to write it from the viewpoint of some rich whitey. I want to write as if it the subject was just a regular person in Westport. Just matter of factly and interesting, I suppose.

Now that the weather has warmed up in good ol’ Connecticut, hopefully I’ll stop daydreaming so much about warm places like Southeast Asia. Probably not though.

Monday, February 23, 2009

What's the game?

The origins of this blog’s name comes from the song “Unfriendly Game” by the Broklyn rapper Masta Ace. It’s a clever song that compares the life of drug dealers to that of a professional football team. This blog doesn’t have anything to do with either (although I may write about my obsession with football in the future), I think “the game” is an accurate way to describe most aspects of life.

In The Wire, which is my favorite TV and supposedly President Obama’s as well, our favorite character always talks about the game. Omar Little is the badass Robin Hood of the hood. He "rips and runs" drug dealers of their cash and stash, but he never puts a gun on an innocent. He likes to carry a big shotgun while whistling Farmer in the Dell, and his scenes are typically the "action" in the show. He also happens to be gay. To him, the whole drug trade is “the game.”

“The game is out there, and it’s play or get played,” he tells some officers in the first season.

In one of the best scenes during the five season run, Omar testifies against some scumbag named Bird, who is accused of killing a witness. The slimy lawyer Maury Levy defends Bird. Levy has been well-established before this scene as a straight up slime ball. Considering this is a show that has murderers and corrupt politicians, it’s saying a lot that he’s the most unlikable character on the show. I don't have the skills to embed videos and it's a bit long, but it's worth checking out.

Omar on Trial

“You are feeding of the violence and despair of the drug trade,” said an impassioned Levy. “You’re stealing from those who themselves are stealing from the life blood of our city. You are a parasite that leeches off the culture of drugs.”

“Just like you,” replied Omar. “I got the shotgun. You got the brief case. It’s all in the game though, right?”

Case closed.

Now I could go on and about how brilliant this show is. The finale left me depressed for a couple days because while some of the characters find redemption, others become new victims of the game, and the cycle of awfulness just continues. Usually I watch other shows and wish it was as good as The Wire. Then again, I’m addicted to crap like Heroes, so it’s easy to wish for better programming.

Anyways, the game doesn’t just apply to the courts or the streets: it’s everything. Any job you’re working can be the game, because if you don’t play it right then you’ll get played. Relationships are also a game that comes with a winner and a loser. Hell, even trying to survive on the road in Connecticut is a game due to the awful drivers.

By calling all these things a game, their seriousness may seem diminished. I just think it’s a great way of showing that anything in life can be passed or failed.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Science of Heartbreak

I was flipping through a Men’s Health magazine and came across this interesting article that looks at heartbreak from a scientific standpoint. It’s long, but you can trim it in half by skipping the awkward first-person segments where the guy bitches about his ex-girlfriend Julia and then tries to brush off that he stalked her. These bits are pretty awful, and this is coming from a guy that writes blog posts riddled with typos and can’t even get the font to consistently stay the same in each post.

According to the story, being madly in love boosts brain activity by creating something called dopamine. This dopamine makes things feel great. The problem is that it’s addictive – just ask crack users. The same thing goes off in their mind when they take some of the rock. Dopamine apparently makes us think we need the relationship because of the good waves it gives off in our brains.

The obvious truth is that most people don’t need, despite the contrary feelings in their body. I found myself nodding my head in agreement with a lot of things in this article (I was literally nodding my head as I read this in the library. I must have looked sketchy).

Some of the stereotypical remedies to a bad breakup are brought up, such as gambling, drinking and finding some new quickly. The best thing to do, according to some researches, is just to forget about them.

Don’t try being friends if you want to be something more at the moment.
Don’t look at photos of them.
Don’t track them on Facebook.
Don’t cry on anyone’s shoulder (at least regularly)
Of course, try not to see them in person.

It’s stupidly simple, and from my experience it works. Just don’t be a creep like the author … or me by nodding your head while reading in public.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

No beat of a different drum

Somebody I was interviewing asked me what my beat was at the paper.

“Everything,” I said.

Ten years ago, there were three or four reporters at my paper. As of last week, I’m the only one. There were two of us when I started working, but she took another job. Reinforcements won’t be arriving because there’s a hiring freeze from our kind rulers at Hearst. That means even if people leave, their position can’t be replaced. Maybe they would make exceptions if I were to die or something. After all, somebody needs to get some news for a newspaper.

Anyways, it seems that if you’re working in other fields, specialization is a great thing to have. If you can do one thing better than anyone else, then you’re set. For reporters, a degree of specialization is a great asset. If one reporter knows health better than anyone else, then they can provide the best, most nuanced stories available. Same with all the other beats.

I work in a relatively small town, so I don’t need too much specialization. However, I can’t do everything. There are many branches of local government, not even counting state legislators, and so many other aspects of towns that are important. Business. Crime (not that there’s much of it here). Education. Fluffy and sweet events that make good features.

When it was two reporters, we split some things and it was for the best. Now, things are going to be difficult and I’m worried that the readers will end up paying. There’s so much going on that it will be difficult to go truly in-depth on complex issues. Quicker stories made take precedence over long, convoluted ones that require lots of time. Of course, I’m going to have to kick my game up a notch, but something has to give. Hopefully it won’t be my sanity.

Somebody told me how newspapers are one of the only products that’s losing customers and offers a less stellar product in response. I’m on the bottom of the totem pole and don’t know what’s goes on with these massive conglomerations, but it boggles my mind that money can’t be made on newspapers. Do you know how much reporters are paid? It’s insane. Editors make comparatively decent money, which would be nice if they actually had time to spend it. These salary slaves seem to work at least 60 hours a week, and that’s what I’ve seen at tiny papers.

Where is this money going? It hurts when people say print is dying because I love it so much. It’s nice reading articles that have had time to develop rather than minute-by-minute updates. I like carrying around a paper and reading it over lunch, at my desk or in the bathroom. Who doesn’t? If the internet needs to be invested in to survive, so be it. No concerted efforts seem to be made anywhere about this. Time mag had some interesting ideas about this.

I guess I’m just bitter that I wasn’t around for the more lucrative era of newspapers, where people had strict beats and nothing slipped past a reporter. I’ll make due and keep on doing my best. The readers, at least most of them, will still stick with the paper. Gradually, I think this will lead to a slow and steady decline. I’ll just keep on doing what I’m doing, but I hope that some higher ups and taking serious measures to see what’s going on. It all starts in the newsroom. There will always be an audience for solid reporting as long as there are people to report it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Reporters are poor.

I heard all the warnings.

The biggest one everyone told me was how humiliating the wages for reporters were. Professors casually reminded me almost as often as they stressed the five Ws and the importance of punchy leads. It was almost an inside joke among journalism students and our professors. Everyone knew there wasn’t much money to be made, but nobody really took it too seriously. After all, we were young and beer on Wednesday nights was only 50 cents.

After graduating, I was at church with my family to pay respects to my grandma, who recently died thousands of miles away in her home country of Poland. It was in the middle of summer and my job hunt was at a standstill. I couldn’t even get an interview. After the service, one my mom’s Polish friends made some small talk with me. I mentioned how I wanted to be a reporter, even though I was pissed at my lack of success and jealous of my colleagues that were getting hired.

“A reporter?” he said. The guy had an incredulous look on his face, as if someone had told a barely coherent Polish joke. “How are you going to support a wife and kids?”

I grinned and told him I’d find a way. All I could think of was that I was hoping I didn’t have a wife, and especially a kid, any time soon.

Months later, I landed a job at a small community newspaper in the wealthiest in one of the wealthiest towns in the U.S. The truth is that it if I had a kid, I wouldn’t be able to provide him any of the basics without drastic help from my parents. I nearly qualify foodstamps, but I have too much money saved up and I make a couple hundred dollars over the aid limit. The ridiculously high rent in this part of Connecticut eats up more than half of my wages.

The best way to determine the living costs of a place is to check the beer prices. In a bar in Poland, a king sized beer was usually less than 2 bucks. Best of all, tipping was mostly unheard of. In Thailand, the manliest of manly beers was a buck in a 7/11. This thing was epic in size and delicious in taste (I set myself up for a prime "that's what she said" joke). In upstate New York, there are some bars that serve two dollar drinks all night long. Here, I’ve had the displeasure of $5 Bud Lights. I even had some more expensive drinks and nearly wept as the money left my wallet.

I still buy superfluous things now and then (usually used, like my $60 skis), so things probably aren’t as bad as I make them out to be. With that said, I love my job even when I hate it. More on that another time.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Where do you see yourself years from now?

I like, and occasionally love, my job even though it's hard to work in a fantasy land. By that, I mean I want to work in a real place. Right now I report in a town where people tell me things are so difficult in this recession that they haven’t bought a new car in three years. Their driveways are full of SUVs and European cars.

The biggest issue in schools was the possibility of class starting half an hour earlier. One lady said she moved out from the vicinity of another school that changed the start time. What she means is that she spent at least $1 million dollars on a new house so her kid could sleep in half an hour more. Maybe I’m being unfair in judging the price of her new home, but the average cost of a home here is approximately $1 million.

I make less than $25,000 a year. I’d never be able to own anything here.

From the crowded streets, McMansions sprout like ugly mushrooms. The developers try to make them to look like some of the remaining old-fashioned homes in town and they do a poor job of doing so. They’re just too big and too gaudy to be passed off as quaint.

It’s not that I wouldn’t like living here. Hell, if I was rich I’d probably be more than happy to buy up an obnoxious home and waste the days away. I’d also love to raise my kids in a safe town where the schools are topnotch and education is highly valued. I don’t plan on having kids anytime soon, so this doesn’t apply.

I just don't want to be that comfortable - at least for now.

My ideal place to work would be a shitty city where punks sling drugs on the corners, the system is failing and people have a right to be fired up and pissed off. Real, serious problems need to be prevalent. The thing with nice places is that people seem to invent problems just because it’s the natural thing not to be totally satisfied.

I want murders and corruption, but it isn’t because they make “easy” news stories. I’m always reminded that elsewhere in this country and the world, things are severely fucked up. Here I am on my laptop with my only real problem is that my girlfriend left me and I’m going to have to save a couple more weeks to buy upgrade my ancient laptop.

Changes need to be made in this country and the rest of the world. I could do the Peace Corps, which sounds like an amazing program, but I’d can't spend that much time off in a small village. I need more stimulation. Reporting on wide-spread issues and enacting change is any reporter’s dream, though I’m not in it for the bylines or the fame. I just don’t want to waste life away in a comfortably numb stupor while other people are profoundly suffering. I don’t know exactly what I want, but I want it in a couple years.